As the Iraqi general elections are due to take place on 7 March, the election campaign has been going full swing all month long as the contesting coalitions were at last fully formed.
The State of Law, the list lead by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, brings together, in addition to his own Dawa Party, various groups going from Sunni Arab tribal leaders to independent public figures, Christians and Shiite Kurds. His political line appears secular and his programme is essentially centred, as during the Provincial elections in January 2009, on the issues of security and the struggle against terrorism, as well as on a stronger State and reliable public services. This discourse had an undeniable success in the Iraqi Provincial Elections. Since then, however, the latest terrorist attacks on Baghdad have possibly blemished his record.
The National Iraqi Alliance is the Shiite list that rivals al-Maliki. It brings together the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq, the largest Shiite party, as well as public figures from other factions like Moqtada al-Sadr, former Prime Minister Jaffari and Ahmed Chalabi, formerly the USA’s favourite political leader prior to 2003, as well as a few Sunni leaders.
On the Sunni Arabs side, the principal list is the Iraqiyya list, led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a former Baath official of Shiite origin. Its ranks also include the present Iraqi Vice-President, the Sunni Arab Tareq al-Hashemi as well as another Sunni Arab, Saleh al-Mutlaq, whose links with the Baath provoked heated protests from other Iraqi parties until several other candidates were banned from standing. Their programme is above all a nationalist one.
The Iraqi Unity list is led by the present Minister of the Interior, Shiite Jawad al-Bolani, a Sunni tribal leader Ahmed abu-Risha and Abdul Ghafur al-Samaaim who leads another Sunni Arab movement. As with the Iraqiyya list, several of its members were banned by the Electoral Commission for their links with the former Baath party.
The Iraqi Islamic Party and some tribal chiefs make up the Concord Front list, led by Ayad al-Samarrai, the Iraqi Parliament’s Speaker. This had been the principal Sunni Arab coalition in 2005, when most Sunni Arabs boycotted the elections, but its membership has since melted away.
On the Kurdish side, several parties are standing this time and the united front of the Kurdistan Region is jeopardised by the rivalry between the Kurdistan Alliance, which brings together the KFP and the PUK and the new Gorran Party, a break away from the PUK. However their differences are moreover power sharing inside the Region and the handling of Kurdish issues. On the major Iraqi-Kurdish issues like Kirkuk their views are practically identical and the election campaign in Kurdistan is quite independent of that in Iraq.
The banning of hundreds of Sunni candidates (about 450) considered too close to Baathist circles at first stirred up the political scene in Iraq, the banned politicians taking the matter to court. This “black list” had been vigorously challenged in Sunni Arab circles that accused the Shiite government of using this legal weapon to neutralise the main rival lists. Nor were the Americans in favour of this because of the political tensions that could ensue and fearing a return of the “Sunni insurrection” in Iraq. Similarly the Iraqi Election High Commission considered striking off so many candidates as too hasty, and demanded that their real links with Saddam’s old party be carefully examined by the courts. The President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani’s views were close to this position — he proposed that the disputed candidates be authorised to stand but that they should not be allowed to hold any official positions until they had been cleared of the charges against them — a position finally adopted by the Election High Commission.
However, the opposition to these suspect candidates was not abated in public opinion especially in Shiite circles and on 8 February hundreds of demonstrators opposed this decision with slogans like: “No to the Baath Party” and “The return of the Baath = the return of mass graves”.
Finally, of the 450 candidates who would later have to prove they had no links with the Baath, only 37 did, in fact, present their cases to the courts. Moreover the majority had already been replaced by other candidates on their lists — none of those banned carried any political weight.
Since 2005, the Kurds have been looked on as “kingmakers” in Baghdad arbitrating between the two main Arab camps of Sunni and Shiite Moslems as their support was indispensible for any Iraqi coalition to be able to govern, as Shoresh Haji, of the Gorran party confirms: “No one can become Prime Minister without Kurdish support since he would have to be either a Sunni Arab or a Shiite Arab. Since they can’t stand one another, we will always be the determining factor in holding the scales”.
However Kurdish-Arab relations are very tense because of issues such as the Status of the Peshmergas in Iraq, management of hydrocarbon resources and the contracts signed with foreign companies but above all over Kirkuk.
However, as Joost Hiltermann, Middle East Assistant Director of the International Crisis Group (ICG), explains: “I think that there will be very tough negotiations but I don’t think the Arab parties will let the Kurds join the opposition — it would be too dangerous”.
Even the division between the two competing Kurdish lists will not change this state of affairs, according to Gala Riani, an analyst with Global Insight Middle-East (HIS): “Even though they campaign on different lists, when it comes to having problems with the Federal Government they have always succeeded in rallying and displaying a unity that, internally, is perhaps absent”.
In this campaign, the Kurdish parties and the other Iraqi parties are only competing against one another in the regions covered by Article 140 of the Constitution, which Irbil government is claiming should be attached to Kurdistan. The main stake, of course is Kirkuk, where Arab Sunni, Arab Shiite and Turcoman are confronting one another. Facing them, the Kurdistan Alliance is also being attacked on its own ground by Gorran, the new protest movement in the Kurdistan Region, which does not hide its ambition to win this province. It is attacking the Kurdistan Alliance in the subject of the fight against corruption, improvement of public services as well as that of employment, this trying to rake in some non-Kurdish votes: “Many towns in Kurdistan need improvement, but Kirkuk most of all. Look round you— nothing is working. The parties in office have abandoned the people. Now everyone is suffering: the Kurds, the Turcomen, the Arabs, the Christians — everyone”, states Anna Khanaqa, Gorran party candidate there.
The same themes are dealt with by the Kurdistan Alliance, covering improvement in water and electricity and other services. The list has the active support, in this town, of Jalal Talabani, who is a native of Kirkuk and leader of the PUK. According to his party’s spokesman, Muhammad Osman, he intends staying in the town throughout the campaign. Like its Kurdish rival, the Alliance is trying to win Arab and Turcoman votes. Inter-ethnic assembling is, in any case, a general trend in Kirkuk for these elections, the Arab and Turcoman parties are also calling on Kurdish and Christian electors to vote for them, but under major national lists such as Allawi’s. This is a break from previous elections when the province’s Arabs and, especially the Turcomen, had formed their own local lists, which had weakened them.
The election campaign in the Kurdistan Region was dominated by the rivalry between the Kurdistan Alliance and the new Gorran Party. The other Kurdish parties standing, like the Islamism and other micro parties, had been unable to agree so as to form coalitions of any weight.
Unlike the Kurdistan Regional parliamentary elections of July 2009, these had both a local character, since it was an opportunity for Gorran to confirm its position in Kurdistan, but also a national one since this division might have some impact on the Kurds’ influence in Baghdad. Opinions of outside analysts are divided on this point. Thus according to Joost Hiltermann (International Crisis Group) this political rivalry could weaken the Kurds in the Iraqi Parliament because, whereas the smaller Kurdish parties, like the Socialist Party or even the Islamic parties formerly rallied round the Kurdistan Alliance during debates in the Iraqi Parliament, the disagreements between Gorran and the PUK do not augur well for a united Kurdish line on all questions such as the re-election of Jalal Talabani as national President.
On the other hand, Wayne Wright, former Assistant Director of the Middle-East-S-E Asia Department of the US Information and Research Office, considers that the competition between the two main Kurdish parties will not necessarily reduce their position but “could diversify and strengthen their popular base inside the KRG”. On the issue of Gorran’s support for Jalal Talabani’s Presidency, while Wayne Wright thinks that too aggressive an election campaign between Talabani’s supporters and Nawshirwan’s could undermine Kurdish influence in Baghdad he stresses, nevertheless, that it would be unwise of both the Sunni and Shiite Arabs to remove the Presidency from the Kurds.
He recalls that Jalal Talabani has played an indispensible role in easing communal tension and has been able to be seen as a symbol of national unity. Wayne Wright also suggests that it is precisely his involvement in broader Iraqi affairs and his distancing himself from Kurdish grass-roots issues that has contributed to the defection of some of the Kurdish electorate.
Another major question mark regarding the election campaign in Kurdistan concerns the possibility of violence between factions, especially in Suleimaniyah where, during the Region’s parliamentary elections last July, supporters of Gorran and of the PUK had sometimes clashed sharply, but without any bloodshed. Since relations between the two parties have not improved, some people again express fears that demonstrations and meetings might turn into armed conflict.
To forestall any such outbursts, the Kurdish authorities set up a curfew in Suleimaniah Province, with the agreement of the Iraqi Election High Commission. This decision was taken after three Gorran supporters were injured by gunfire. Their party accused pro-PUK police forces, alleging they had attacked its members. The curfew was immediately criticised by the opposition party, which saw it as a PUK manoeuvre to prevent it from campaigning.
For its part, the Suleimaniyah Security Committee denies Gorran’s version of the incident and points out that the PUK forces had arrested 11 people during the Gorran meeting, but only after 3 others had been wounded by shots fired in the air by other supporters. The PUK also accused Gorran of having thrown stones at a convoy of officials driving through the centre of Suleimaniyah. Ferhad Mollah Rassoul, who heads of the Kurdistan Alliance list has declared that, for his part, he would observe the curfew.
Despite this, for the month as a whole eleven people are recorded as wounded by bullets and shots were often heard at night, but these were, essentially, shots fired into the air as is often dome at meetings — and also at private celebrations. Nevertheless, the curfew did not prevent Suleimaniyah´s night life from being fairly lively and it even seems that it encouraged the younger supporters to defy the authorities, as it is not always easy to distinguish between real political protest demonstrations and adolescent games of hide and seek with the police.
In the opinion of Suleimaniyah residents, the tension is greater than in July 2009. Rebwar Karim, who teaches political science at the city’s university, explains this by the fact that “during the previous elections the PUK were unaware of the strength of the opposition. This time it knows what it has to face and the atmosphere is thus more tense”.
In parallel to the competition between the parties, the representation of minority or socially disadvantaged groups, like the women, within the Baghdad Parliament was the subject of demands of anxiety about their weight in the new Iraqi National Assembly. Thus the women candidates of the Kurdistan Region, though they are strongly represented in the Irbil parliament, considered that their political weight insufficient or even fairly unsubstantial in Baghdad, despite the quota of 25% women, imposed by the Constitution.
During a forum organised in Suleimaniyah on 20 February by the International Institute for Human Rights (USA), a variety of candidates, Iraqi Kurds or Arabs standing for secular parties, debated the political representation of women in Iraq. While they all agreed that the 25% quota helped women to secure some political visibility in Parliament, the majority stressed that there remains much to do with regard to any real exercise of power within the Iraqi State.
“Equality doesn't just mean giving us posts”, explained Amal Jamal, a candidate on the Kurdistan Alliance list for Suleimaniyah. “We need to be included in the decision making process”.
Bushra al-Ubaidi, candidate on the Iraqi Unity list for Baghdad states that the Iraqi political parties, dominated by men, have a tendency to fill their quotas with unqualified candidates, which then gives them the opportunity of exploiting their incompetence and so keeping control of the management of political and social questions. Thus the 25% quota is sometimes used against the interests of women. In general, she deplored a “strategy of discouragement” to dissuade women from getting recognition of their rights.
Some expressed more comments, especially those from religious parties. Thus Dilxwaz Abdullah, from the list of the Islamic Union of Kurdistan, considered that the problems of equality between the sexes were not specific to Iraq, pointing out that American women only have a 17% representation in the American Congress. However, most of them wished for a strengthening of the laws protecting women and a greater effective equality in society.
Apart fro, meetings and poster sticking campaigns, Kurdish political life has seized upon a new communication tool, that of Internet social networks like Facebook. Some Kurdish politicians even have their own personal page, like the veteran Kurdish Socialist Mahmud Othman, who has 2000 fans on his site. The President of the Kurdish Socialist Party points out he uses Facebook to reach electors living outside Iraq: “We cannot travel abroad because of the limited time available for this election campaign. Moreover, using Facebook is the easiest and quickest way to contact Iraqi electors of the diaspora”, he told the newspaper Rudaw.
The Arab lists also use Facebook. The site is thus the field of several virtual confrontations between supporters, whether they live in Iraq, in Kurdistan or abroad. Which is, as experienced Kurdish net surfers admit, is the lesser of two evils: “You can see many supporters of the Kurdistan and Gorran lists fighting one another on various FAcebook pages using foul language”, summed up Barzan, 24 years of age, who watched the behaviour of supporters of each party for a week. “However, I’m happy to say that they did not confront each other with guns or knives, and it is just and electronic war on Facebook”.
On 26 February, an international conference took place in Paris at the national Assembly, organised by the Kurdish Institute and entitled “Turkey: Democratic opening and perspective of joining the European Union”. The participants included politicians, academics, well-known artistic personalities and journalists. The aims of this conference were as follows:
In July last year, the Turkish government announced its intention of starting a process for settling the Kurdish question, which, for several decades, has weighed like a millstone on any development of Turkey’s domestic and external policies. First called the “Kurdish Opening” then the “Democratic Opening” to include the country’s other ethic and religious minorities (e.g. the Alevis), this initiative aroused hopes amongst those affected but also met strident opposition from the powerful Turkish nationalist forces, particularly the Armed Forces.
This is happening in a turbulent situation in which, for the first time in Turkey’s history, some retired generals are being brought to court for their involvement in preparations for military coups d’état together with a vast Turkish criminal network made up of extreme right activists, Army and Gendarmerie officers and also academics and journalists, combined in a Turkish edition of the former Gladio.
At the same time, the Constitutional Court, essentially composed of Kemalist nationalist judges, which recently came close to banning the AKP party — recently re-elected for a second term in office — has gone on to ban the pro-Kurdish DTP party, which was supposed to be the legal Kurdish partner of the government’s “democratic opening”. The two joint presidents of this party have been stripped of their elected mandate as Members of Parliament. Similarly about twenty mayors, directly elected by popular vote with scores of between 60% and 70% have been arrested, handcuffed and thrown into jail.
It is in this period of tension and confusion that the city of Istanbul has been chosen as Europe’s 2010 cultural capital, while the 15 to 18 million Kurds of Turkey, as well as the country’s other minorities of which Turkey is composed, are still awaiting cultural recognition, protection of their material heritage and their right to free expression.
Over an above the effects of this announcement, the Kurdish Institute of Paris is proposing to analyse the real changes that have occurred in the areas of Human Rights, fundamental freedoms and on the present lot of the Kurds. What are the hopes and perspectives for the process of democratising the Turkish regime?
In view of Turkey’s application to join the European Union, this question is of the greatest interest to the citizens of France of Europe. It deserves to be the subject of public and plural discussion.
The conference being organised by the Kurdish Institute proposes to highlight these issues by giving the floor both to public figures and experts from Turkey, including members of Parliament from the governing AKP party and the recently banned pro-Kurdish DTP, as well as to European Members of Parliament and specialists with a variety of viewpoints, so as to contribute to providing public opinion with a wide range of information.
The first panel covered the Human Rights situation in Turkey. The moderator was Yavuz Onen, former President of the Foundation for human Rights in Turkey and former President of Turkey’s Union of Architects’ and Engineers’ Chambers. The speakers were Murat Bilge, Professor at Bilgi University, Istanbul, President of the Helsinki Citizens Association; Dr. Necdet Ipekyuz, former President of the Diyarbekir Chamber of Medicine; Mrs. Zubeyde Kiliç, President of the National Education Union of Turkey (Egitim-Sen); and Mrs. Nadire Mater, journalist at Bianet.
The second panel was entitled “What is the democratic opening?”, presided by Hamit Bozarslan, Professor Political Science at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS). It included Dr. Tarik Ziya Ekinci, former Member of Parliament for Diyarbekir; Dr. Gencay Gursoy, President of the Turkish Union of Chambers of Medicine; the musician Sivan Perwer and Reso Zilan, President of the Language and Literature Department of the Paris Kurdish Institute.
The panel on “Democratic Opening and the new Turkish diplomacy” was presided by Mr. Gérard Chaliand, a writer and expert in geopolitics. After screening the videoed contribution of Fuad Hussein, Chief of staff of the Kurdistan Region Presidency, the panel heard Mrs. Bejanmatur, journalist on the Turkish daily Zaman; Marc Semo, a journalist on the French daily Libération; Jonathan Randal, former correspondent of the Washington Post and Dorothée Schmid, in charge of the Contemporary Turkey programme of the French Institue of International Relations (IFRI).
Finally the last discussion tried to foresee the perspectives of this “Democratic Opening”. Moderated by Kendal Nezan, President of the Paris Kurdish Institute, the panel included Bayram Bozyel, President of the Party of Law (HAKPAR); Bernard Dorin, ambassador of France, Mir Dengir Firat, former Vice-President of the justice and Development Party (AKP and Altan Tan, a journalist and writer. A videoed message from Osman Baydemir, Mayor of Diyarbekir was also screened.
On 12 February, the House of Lords (Great Britain) the government was questioned about the situation of the Kurds in Syria, on the discriminations from which they are suffering as citizens and the bans on their cultural and linguistic rights.
The House also questioned the legality of the arrest of four Kurdish members of a political party, the Yekiti, namely: Hassan Ibrahim Saleh, Mohammed Mustafa, Maruf Mulla Ahmed and Anwar Nasso, on the grounds that they had expressed the wish for autonomy of Syria’s Kurdish regions and, in general, on the large number of arrests of Kurdish activists and students in Syria since 2002. Amongst these are Dilbixwin Osey Hamdin, a student at Derbassieh, arrested on 16 August 2009 and Hevraz Amin Hassan, a student at Qamishlo, arrested on 14 December 2009.
According to the Minister of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, the British Foreign Office had raised the Kurdish question during a meeting with his Syrian opposite number, and had expressed his concern about the situation of Kurds in Syria. “My colleagues in Damascus are in regular contact with the defenders of human rights in Syria and are watching the situation closely, including the rights of citizens and linguistic rights”.
Lady Kinnock of Holyhead also recalled that the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ivan Lewis, had considered, during a debate in Westminster Hall on 24 August 2009, that Kurdish rights were still not guaranteed by the Syrian Constitution and that the annual report on Human Rights of his Ministry for 2008 had paid particular attention to the rights of Syrian Kurds.
The Minister of State recognised, in her reply to the Lords, that the Syrian legal system needed to be reformed, especially the Syrian Supreme Court, where lawyers only see their clients on the day of the trial itself for half an hour, and where they have neither the right to plead or even to call witnesses. Finally the defence cannot appeal against sentences passed.
Two days later, on 14 February, the Syrian Committee for Human Rights announced the death under torture of a Kurdish detainee in Aleppo Prison. The man was Mohammed Musto Rasid, a native of Afrin. Imprisoned for the last four months, he had been subjected to severe ill treatment before being sent to Aleppo Hospital for four days. Sent back to detention, he died on 19 January last. The reason for his arrest and detention have never been explained by the authorities and the Syrian Committee is not even in a position to say whether this had any connection with political activities.
Sentences, even for short terms of imprisonment and often for fairly trivial reasons, have multiplied this month against members of the Yekiti party, in what seems to be a tactic of harassment. On 16 February, Hassan Saleh, a member of its Political Committee, was sentenced in absentia to a term of a year’s imprisonment (commuted to 8 months by the judge) for membership of a secret and banned organisation and for incitement to sectarian and race hatred. The Qamshilo Army judge also sentenced Shahbaz Nazir Ismail and Siwar Abdul Rahman Darwish to six months imprisonment (commuted to 4 months) for being in possession of Yekiti publications.
On 18 February, two Kurds from Amude were arrested by the Qamshilo security forces for no known reason and kept in detention. They are Montasir Ahmad Khalaf, a photographer and owner of a café and Alan Ahmed Hussein, a florist.
On the same day, Mohammed Salih Khalid, a member of the Political Committee of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria appeared before the Aleppo Army Court. He was accused of membership of a secret organisation by virtue of Article 288 of the Syrian Penal Code. His trial was finally postponed to 25 March.
Born in Afrin, in 1953, Mohammed Salih, who now lives in Damascus, was arrested on 11 November 2009 by the Army Security and detained in that service’s Palestine branch in Damascus, before being transferred to Aleppo.
Moreover the recent statement of 4 members of the Yekiti party, wishing for autonomy in the Kurdish regions of Syria has strongly agitated the Syrian opposition.
Last December, indeed, during the party’s congress, some members of the Political Committee had declared that the solution to the Kurdish problem in Syria was through some form of autonomous government. These members were arrested soon after, but this statement has split the common platform, called the “Damascus Umbrella”, formed in 2005 to bring together the various opposition parties and movements in Syria, whether Kurdish or Arab, Islamist or secular. The Arab parties vigorously condemned the proposal made by those Kurds, that they described as “untimely” and “separatist”.
However Fuad Aliko, Tekiti’s General Secretary, retorted that the Kurds of Syria had the legitimate right to manage their own affairs and to enjoy autonomy so long as this did not harm the country’s territorial integrity. Fuad Aliko quoted as an example Turkey’s “opening” regarding the Kurdish question and the case of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, which he considered models for resolving the Kurdish problem in Syria.
This is the first time in the political history of the Kurds in Syria that autonomy has been openly proposed and this new step has provoked the irritation of some Arab movements who are disinclined to see the Kurds as anything other than a silent minority in Syria. Hassan Abdel-Azim, leader of the Arab Socialist Democratic Union “rejected outright the use of terms such as “Syrian Kurdistan”, self-government or any other “separatist” remarks. He added that the opposition groups in Syria sought solutions to the Kurdish problem “within the limits of the unity of Syrian land and its people” adding that he supported the right to the civic equality of the Kurds and their cultural rights.
Faik al-Mir, a member of the Syrian Democratic Party considered, for his part, that “separatist demands” divided and weakened the opposition: “Today the Syrians need to be in a situation of total unity and solidarity in their struggle to build a free society and a democratic State”.
Ever since this Damascus platform of opponents was formed in 2005, its resolutions on Kurdish rights have been limited to vague declarations of intent, so as to avoid offending Arab nationalism. However, according to Fuad Aliko, this rejection is the result of an ignorance of the principle of autonomy by these Arab movements that automatically identify it with separatism. He said he was “disappointed” by these reactions, which he compared with the intransigence of the Syrian Baath.
Two Kurdish publishers in Turkey are facing heavy prison sentences to 21 years and 525 years respectively for “separatist propaganda”.
On 11 February, the fifth Chamber of the Diyarbekir Assize Court sentenced in absentia Ozan Kilinc, owner of the newspaper Azadiya Welat to 21 years and three months for “propaganda in favour of a terrorist organisation”, that is for having published reports and photos of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan in June 2009. He was also found guilty of membership of “a terrorist organisation”.
This sentence was condemned by a variety of organisations for the defence of the press. The Director of the International Press Institute (IPI), David Dadge, described this prison sentence as “unacceptable”, deploring that “too often the authorities in Turkey or elsewhere use the anti-terrorist laws just to restrict freedom of the press”. In its annual report the IPI had already criticised the Turkish Government for its attempts to muzzle the press by using verbal attacks, disproportionate fines and the use of Articles of the law to sue journalists.
Reporters sans Frontières, for its part declared that: “freedom of expression must be extended, once and for all, to all the pro-Kurdish press. The disproportion between the facts with which he is charged — the expression of opinion that can be opposed— and the sentence passed is striking. It is not by banishing the democratic expression of minority demands that the Turkish Republic will be able to overcome extremist violence”.
However, on 23 February, an even more outrageous sentence was passed on Vedat Kursun, former director of the same paper, who has been held in detention for the last 13 months and charged with “glorifying the crimes of criminals” and with “having helped the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in its propaganda”.
The Public prosecutor, in fact, called for 525 years imprisonment for a total of 105 charges against the newspaper Azadiya Welat for “terrorist” propaganda and the fact that it had described Abdullah Ocalan as a “leader of the Kurdish people”.
Founded in 1994, the weekly Azadiya Welat became a daily in 2006 and has often been the target of legal actions, being regularly accused of being the press organ and mouthpiece of the PKK.
In any case, the month of February has been very tense, with many demonstrations and arrests because of commemorations of Ocalan’s capture, which took place on 15 February 1999. All gatherings were violently repressed by the police, as in Diyarbekir, where 3,000 people tried to march through the town centre, braving the tear gas and water canons. Other protesters replied with setting up street barricades and setting tyres alight.
Similar violence occurred in Istanbul, where a busy road was blocked by demonstrators.
Some days before the anniversary date, police raids and roundups took place in Kurdish political circles, with hundreds of arrests, mainly aimed at the pro-Kurdish BDP party. The dragnets took place in the towns of Hakkari, Diyarbekir, Van, Siirt, Batman, Mardin, Gaziantepe, Urfa and Mus, as well as at Istanbul and Adana, Turkish cities with a concentration of Kurds.
Finally, many cases of minors being arrested, some of whom were severely sentenced for “terrorism”, have been widely reported in the Turkish and international press.
Thus a young 15-year-old Kurdish girl, arrested during a demonstration in Batman, in support of the DTP last October, was sentenced to 8 years jail. The Diyarbekir Court found him guilty of membership of an illegal organisation (the DTP that had just been banned!), of shouting slogans, throwing stones at the police, of having taken part in illegal meetings and demonstrations, and of propaganda in favour of a banned organisation. Berivan, however, denied having taken part in the demonstration, stating that he had just stopped, on his way back from visiting his aunt, and looked on out of curiosity. During her detention, after being beaten, she signed a confession to all these charges. When Berivan’s mother heard the sentence she exclaimed: “has she killed anyone? Even murderers get lighter sentences!”.
There are 83 other children imprisoned in Diyarbekir, arrested in similar circumstances and charged with similar offenses. According to the Turkish Association for Human Rights (IHD) the total number of minors sued for having taken part in demonstrations, thrown stones or Molotov cocktails at the police is about 3,000. As they are charged under the “anti-terrorist” laws they all face very heavy prison sentences — between 20 and 24 years. Indeed, since 2006 Turkish law has allowed the trying of minors in the same way as adults, as the lawyer Canan Atabay explained to the French daily Figaro: “Some are sentenced to twenty years jail without any reduction of sentence. It seems a total farce to pass such sentences for throwing stones, whereas the whole future of these children is at stake. The whole legal arsenal has to be revised from top to bottom”.
The Network for Cultural Reconstruction in Iraq, a German NGO, has started several projects for theatrical activity in Iraq and in Kurdistan, in partnership with several German institutions and organisations or Berlin theatres. In an interview given to the paper Deutsche Welle, one of its officers, Ihsan Othman, explained that, from its origins, the Iraqi Kurdistan theatre was a form of resistance to the dictatorship, as well as a cultural movement, since the Kurds, as an oppressed ethnic group, also used this means of self expression.
Since 2006, Ihsan Othman, in cooperation with the Theaterhaus Mitte, IT Germania and the Goethe Institute has concentrated his cultural assignment in Iraq, and especially in Iraqi Kurdistan, on the theatre, in the context of cultural exchanges. The first project was “The young girl and Death” by the Chilean author, Ariel Dorman (1990), that dealt with the torture to which political prisoners were subjected in Latin America. The second project was an adaption of a play by Samuel Beckett “Waiting for Godot” renamed “Waiting for the rain”, and the last play the put on was entitled “The women’s Hammam”.
“We have worked with these plays with four groups and have acted them in German, Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish and Persian”, explained Ihsan Othman.
Last year, the works of Bertolt Brecht and Heiner Mueller were also used for theatre projects. Asked if such authors and their plays could find any echo in contemporary Iraq and its public, Ihsan Othman replied positively: “Of course, because I think these themes are universal. Brecht did not write about local themes, even though a local theme can be understood in a universal way. When you see what Heiner Mueller or Brecht wrote, most of their subjects a located elsewhere, inspired by far off countries. For example, we have taken some scenes front the Caucasian Chalk Circle or Mother Courage, which are stories of events n foreign countries, in places like Russia, Asia or Greece. Brecht, in particular, is and outstanding figure in the history of the theatre in Iraq —and throughout the East, I think. Nearly all the Iraqi theatres know him, as well as Heiner Mueller. Brecht was banned in Iraq for a long time, which is why he, as well as Heiner Mueller, are particularly adapted to a country that has experienced violent wars and has had to rebuild. Heiner Mueller and Brecht will never go out of fashion in the world, especially in countries going through a crisis”. (Deutsche Welle)